Book Review: Bellevue Square by Michael Redhill

Title: Bellevue Square
Author: Michael Redhill
My Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

To me, reading this book felt like falling endlessly down one rabbit hole after another. It was like suffering from someone else’s mental illness. It was a wild ride, and I just couldn’t stop reading until I had finished the book. I really recommend this one. It’s mysterious and intriguing…well actually kind of a mind-fuck.

I can see why this book won the Scotiabank Giller Prize last year. It certainly gave me something to think about when it comes to how I think of certain people I see wandering around Toronto.Bellevue Square

Set mostly in and around Kensington Market in Toronto, Bellevue Square is a story about Jean. Jean has two boys aged 10 and 12, and she owns a bookstore called Bookstore (or does she?). One of her regular customers comes in one day and tells her she has a doppelganger…and away we go from there for a wild ride!

I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to give away too much. About halfway through the book, I was very tempted to go online and look up other people’s reviews just to try and figure out what the heck was going in this book. But in the end I was glad I didn’t do that.

That confusion is all part of it. Just hang on to your hat and go along for the ride.

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What to Read? How I find new books to read.

People often seem to be asking for book recommendations. It’s nice to get recommendations from friends and family; after all, they know you best and probably have a good idea about what you might like. But what if nobody has any good ideas?

Well, I have to admit that I never really have trouble finding something to read. I’ve always got holds on books and e-books at the library, and items on my want to read shelf on Goodreads. It seems like I find more books to read much more quickly than I can actually read them all. So many books, so little time! But where do these endless ideas come from for me?

Here are my top 10 places… Continue reading

Book Review: Love and Salt Water by Ethel Wilson

Title: Love and Salt Water
Author: Ethel Wilson
My Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Love and Salt Water. I really couldn’t think of a more fitting title for this book. Love. SLove and Salt Wateralt Water. You could consider those to be the the two main characters of the story.

This book really grew on me, especially as it drew closer to the end. After finishing the book, I decided that I really liked it as a whole, though there were times while I was reading it that I thought I should just give up and move on to something else. I think that’s because in the first part of the book, nothing that interesting really happens. Well, okay, the main character’s mother dies and her father takes her on some interminable voyage by sea. I didn’t really feel the tragedy of the mother’s death, but rather it felt like a tool so that the author could get them out onto the water.

The second part of the story begins to get a lot more interesting. The main character, Ellen, has to take her pampered nephew away to visit an aunt because her sister and her husband have to go on a work trip. While they are there, tragedy strikes, almost, and in the last quarter of the book the interesting parts start.

Getting back to that main character of salt water. I really enjoyed the different roles that salt water played in the book. The sea was a constant presence, except I suppose when Ellen lived on the Prairies. She couldn’t keep away from it for long, even though I suppose it also had quite a negative meaning. For example, because her father took her floating away over the sea after her mother’s death, and while on that voyage she saw a sailor boy swept away by the sea. Also, because salt water was the ultimate cause of the almost-tragedy towards the end of the book.

I’m glad that I read this book. Its setting in BC in the 30s(?) is lovely and probably very different to how that part of the world is now. I’ve added Swamp Angel, one of Ethel Wilson’s other well-known books, to my to read list.

One Book to Open Your Eyes: Canada Reads 2018 Longlist

Ta-da! CBC has finally posted the longlist for Canada Reads 2018. It seems super late this year. I know that last year, they posted the longlist some time in December, which I thought was good timing as much for the authors and booksellers as for people who didn’t know what to get for their book-loving friends for the holidays  🙂

I had a quick look through the list, and gosh I can’t wait to read ALL of them. Here’s the list (copied directly from the link above):

I really, really like the longlist this year. Last year, I chose 8 books from the list to read before the competition, and 3 of those made it onto the shortlist. Admittedly I’ve only had a quick peek at the list so far, but I honestly can’t make my own shortlist here…they all seem to be the kinds of books I would read. So I’ve put all of these on hold at the library, and I’ll just get through them in the order they come in.

Wheee! Here we go. CBC will announce the 5 shortlisted books on January 30, so until then I’ll be reading whatever I can get my hands on from this list.

What do you think of the longlist? Do you have any favourites that you think will be included in the final 5?

30 Books and a New Year’s Resolution

The Goodreads Challenge. Last year in January, I signed myself up for 50 books, thinking that I’d be able to blow that number out of the water. Fast-forward to May, when I picked up my sparkling red scooter from the motorcycle shop and began riding it to work every day. Suddenly, my reading time was cut drastically – my commute on public transit is at least 45 minutes each way every day.

Suddenly, I had 1.5 hours less of reading time per day.

In the summer, I found it hard to finish any books because I would just get halfway through before it was time to return the book to the library.

So by the time December rolled around and I had to put my scooter away because well, who wants to ride when it’s -10 degrees (celsius), I had only read a handful of my 50 books.

I have to say I’m pretty disappointed with my total of 20 for the year – just because there are soooo many good books out there and obviously I’ll never get to all of them.

So anyway, I’ve selected 30 for my Goodreads Challenge this year. I think this is doable if I just put my mind to it a bit more, especially in the summer months when I’m not using transit for my commute. I’ve certainly got a headstart in the first part of January, so I think I’ll be on the right track.

That brings me to my new year’s resolution. I know what you think I’m going to say – that I want to read more books. And yeah, of course I do (don’t we all!). But more specifically I really want to do is spend LESS time scrolling mindlessly through Facebook (a timewaster that probably sucks more of my reading time than not taking transit, if we’re being honest) and MORE time reading. If I have the urge to mindlessly scroll instead of pick up a book and read, then I’ll try to go on WordPress and engage with some other bloggers and see what else is out there, instead of wasting my time.

Well, that’s it. How many books did you read last year, and do you subscribe to the Goodreads Challenge? How do you get to your goal or what is it that holds you back? I’d love to hear about it in your comments.

2017: Top Five Reads

2017 was the year I finally started posting regularly on this blog. At the beginning of the year, I set the challenge to myself that I would read 50 books in the year. After a very long hiatus over the summer, I didn’t make it to anywhere near that number, but I still managed to make it to 20 by the end of the year.

It makes me a bit sad when I look at the numbers that I read so many books that I felt kind of “meh” about. Many of them were for my monthly bookclub, so I felt obliged to finished them so that I would have something to say. But out of the whole list of what I read, I was able to pick out a top five that were my standout favourites from this year. Continue reading

Book Review: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Title: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
Author: Jamie Ford
My Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

On the surface, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an adorable love story. But at the same time, it covers some really important events in the history of the US and of the world, as well as several other prominent and more general themes.

The book tells the story of Henry, a Chinese American man. The book goes back and forth to tell Henry’s life story from two distinct points in time. The first is the 40s. World War Two is going on as well as a number of battles between China and Japan, which Henry’s father keeps an eye on from their home in Seattle. His father holds a strong animosity towards all things Japanese, as indeed the whole city does. Henry has to wear an “I am Chinese” button so that people don’t get confused and think of him as “the enemy.” Amid all of this turmoil and animosity, Henry meets and falls in love with Keiko, a Japanese girl who works with him in the kitchen of his predominantly white school.

The reader is taken back and forth between this story taking place in the 40s and the modern day. Well, it’s 1986, even though the book was published in 2009. I think it was mainly written this way because if it was 2009, Henry and all the other main characters would have been way too old to have this kind of story! Anyway, fast-forward to 1986, and Henry’s wife, Ethel, has recently passed away. One day, it is announced that a whole basement full of Japanese people’s possessions are being brought up from the basement of the Panama Hotel in town. And so the intrigue begins. Continue reading

Book Review: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Title: Cutting for Stone
Author: Abraham Verghese
My Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Cutting for Stone is a novel about Marion and Shiva Stone, twins who grow up in the environment of the Missing hospital in Ethiopia. Their life gets off to a rocky start, as Cutting for Stonetheir mother, an Indian nun, dies in childbirth and their father, a British doctor, goes a little bit mad and runs away from it all. Despite this, Marion and Shiva are loved by their adoptive parents, Hema and Ghosh, and they both live a somewhat cherished and loving childhood and grow into successful men.

Even though this is a fictional story, I can’t help but wonder how much of it is autobiographical. Verghese himself grew up in Ethiopia, with Indian parents, and he is now a professor of medicine in the U.S. I mean, I’m sure he never killed a guy, as the narrator of the story did, but, for example, the nostalgia for his home in Ethiopia shone through and must have had at least some element of truth.

I was enchanted by this book right from the beginning. There were many parts of Marion’s story of growing up that were familiar, but at the same time the setting in Ethiopia lent it a really exotic “other” feel. Well, even though I found the setting quite enchanting, I will admit that it took until about half way through the book for the action to really get started. Marion is betrayed in a big way by his twin, Shiva, and it really sets a certain course for many of the events that happen after that.

You should note that if you’re at all squeamish, this might not be the book for you. The author goes into quite some graphic detail about medical conditions and surgeries, and at the very least some people might want to skip those parts. I will admit I quite liked those parts, but I know they wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste.

Overall, I give this book four stars. It would have been five, but I felt that some parts of the book went on a bit long. The book is about 650 pages in total, depending on which format you have, and I really felt like it would have been just as good if it were only 350. That being said, it’s still a wonderful read.

Book Review: The Conjoined by Jen Sookfong Lee

Title: The Conjoined
Author: Jen Sookfong Lee
My Rating: ♥♥♥♥

First, let me say that I really enjoyed this book. I just couldn’t wait to keep reading it to find out what was going to happen next. Next, I want to say “Spoiler Alert!” I have some things I want to get off my chest about this book, and I won’t be able to say them without giving some things away.

Continue reading

Book Review: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Title: When Breath Becomes Air
Author: Paul Kalanithi
My Rating: ♥♥♥

You know, iWhen Breath Becomes Airf this wasn’t such a tragic and moving story in and of itself, I would probably have given this book two stars. But I feel like I should give the author a break since he was terminally ill and he actually passed away while he was still writing the book. I feel kind of bad giving it only 3 stars.

Look, it’s a sad and moving story. Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon, is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer at the age of 36. That’s only a couple of years older than me. But, in my opinion, there was something missing in his telling of his story. I have read some reviews describing the writing as “poetic” and “moving” but, to be honest, I felt that it was quite dry and clinical. It felt to me more like a text book than it should have.

I found that the most moving parts of the book were the foreword by Abraham Verghese and the epilogue by the author’s wife. In the middle were stories and anecdotes, mostly from the author’s experiences as a neurosurgical resident in the hospital. How hard he worked and the passion he said he felt for his work.

I think maybe I was ready and prepared for a different kind of book. I thought I would be learning about how a neurosurgeon would have a unique perspective on life when his own was ending at such a young age. And I guess that was delivered, but it was a bit too dry and factful for my liking.